Two Australian academics have argued sparked off a moral firestorm by arguing that torture should be legal even if it causes the death of innocent people.

In a paper soon to be published in a US law journal, the head of Deakin University’s law school, Mirko Bagaric, and his colleague Julie Clarke argue that when many lives are in imminent danger, “all forms of harm” may be inflicted on terrorist suspects or persons of interest “even if this results in his or her annihilation”.

A surprising revelation is that Professor Mirko Bagaric is also a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and a lecturer in human rights law. On Tuesday he defended his controversial paper, entitled ‘Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in which Torture is Morally Justifiable’, arguing that torture is justifiable “when it is the only means possible in order to avert a moral catastrophe”.

I have to wonder whether this paper, is itself, a moral catastrophe.

However, rather than demonizing the two professors, I think Christian leaders need to look deeper and consider to what extend they are merely extending and making explicit what is already implicit in many public moral debates: that the end justifies the means; that violence can have redemptive value.

Let’s look at the train of logic:

  1. Self-defence is a right
  2. Defence of others is an extension of self-defense
  3. We have the moral responsibility to defend the majority using any means necessary
  4. Torture is in some cases necessary

I think its the third point that we need to look at really closely. Most Christians would accept its ok to waive our own right to self defense. After all, Jesus did that. But what about for others? Is it ever morally justifiable to refuse to defend others? I think this is where people get stuck. So I want to pose a few questions:

  • How does ‘ends justifies the means’ thinking undermine Christian moral authority?
  • Is violence ever truly redemptive?
  • How should our resurrection hope shape our response?

One thought on “Not enough (official) torture in the world?

  1. thatnks for the links
    I recall reading an extended essay in the atlantic monthly about two years ago that looked into the current practices in torture and they way they were being justified. i suspect the article you site is just the tip of a very big iceberg of papers, opinions and debates we will see over the enxt fwe years jutifying and redefining torture.
    as for a defence of torture from christian perspective, I don’t think it can be done, but people will try.


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